Día de los Muertos and Marigolds

Día de Los Muertos or Day of the Dead is a celebration of life that happens mid-autumn in Latinx communities. This holiday is a reminder of the brevity of life and appreciation for time on Earth with loved ones.

dia de los muertos ofrenda

The festivities center around parties and memorials for those who have passed, with the main focus being the ofrendas, or shrines, dedicated to the deceased. Known for their strong fragrance and bright colors, marigolds are essential adornments to these ofrendas, as they symbolize the brevity of life and are said to guide the spirits back to their families for a one-night, world-colliding reunion.

The marigold flower is native to Mexico and has a long history of incorporation into Central American holidays. The Aztecs were first documented using the flower centuries ago for celebrations and ceremonies that were also centered around the circle of life. For those who celebrate Día de Los Muertos, here are some tips for growing those incredible marigolds that are so beloved during this holiday.

Tagetes erecta, commonly known as Aztec marigold, Mexican marigold, or African marigold.

Optimal Growing Conditions

Soil Temperature for Germination: 70°–75°F.

Soil Composition: Average to rich, well-drained garden soil.

Water: Fairly drought tolerant, once established. Water only when the top inch of soil is dry.

Sun Exposure: Full sun.

Fertilizer: Marigolds do not require a lot of fertilizer, but if the soil is deficient, you can add a slow-release, balanced (equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) fertilizer to the soil before sowing, or a liquid fertilizer a couple of weeks after seedlings emerge, or at transplant time to promote initial green growth. To promote flowering when plants mature, scratch a slow-release fertilizer into the soil surface or water with a moderate phosphorus-rich, liquid fertilizer.

Special Care: Once seedlings have 4-5 sets of leaves, cut seedlings back to just above the 3rd or 4th set of leaves to promote branching. Deadheading (removing spent blossoms), just above the next lower branch regularly also promotes branching and more blooms but will reduce or eliminate reseeding.

Making Marigold Flowers Last Longer: For long vase life, harvest in the morning when they are refreshed and hydrated, choosing flowers that are 50%-75% open. Cut stems at an angle to increase the area where the stem can take up water. Since Tagetes erecta have hollow stems, they will tend to dry out quickly. Flip the flowers upside down and fill the stems with water, then plug with cotton or soft tissue. Hold the plug in place while placing each flower in the water right side up. Make your own floral preservative with a can of lemon-lime (non-diet soda) and 1 tablespoon of bleach per one gallon of water (recipe courtesy of the Floral Design Institute). Change your vase water every 2-3 days.

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